By Colin MacGillivray
A MULTIMILLION dollar quarantine facility at Mickleham opened its doors yesterday, allowing Victoria to begin a transition away from its COVID-19 hotel quarantine program.
Since the pandemic reached Australia in 2020, many overseas travellers entering Victoria have been required to quarantine in hotels under a state-run program, but some politicians at state and federal level called for a dedicated quarantine facility.
The Mickleham facility, which was announced by the Federal Government in April last year, has 500 beds, with the capacity to expand to 1000.
The Donnybrook Road hub will attempt to eschew the problems that plagued hotel quarantine with in an open-air setting and technology including bespoke ventilation systems designed by experts, as well as CCTV monitoring of the villages.
Guests will have access to in-house electronic food ordering and entertainment in an attempt to minimise contact between staff and residents.
The site will be managed by COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, with Victoria Police providing perimeter security. The State Government estimated about 560 staff would be employed at the centre.
Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell said while the opening of the Mickleham facility was welcome, it had come too late.
He said Victoria might have been able to avoid the worst of its COVID-19 lockdowns if a quarantine facility had been built earlier in the pandemic.
“Victorians would have been a lot better off had this been built at the start of the pandemic. It could have saved a lot of problems,” he said.
“If the Federal Government had gotten onto this immediately when there were first calls for proper quarantine facilities, we may have had a different outcome with what Victoria and the rest of the nation went through.
“It has taken too long and the Federal Government should be ashamed of that, but now that it’s up and running it’s there to help.”
The quarantine facility was built with federal money but will be managed by the State Government. The ABC estimated the coast of the facility at $580 million.
While Victoria’s easing quarantine restrictions mean the facility will operate well below capacity, Mr Mitchell and other politicians denied it would be underutilised and unnecessary.
Mr Mitchell said the facility would continue to host quarantined travellers for the remainder of the pandemic and could provide temporary emergency accommodation in the case of natural disasters like bushfires.
“It’s good that it’s finally up and running. It means accommodation for people, and prepares us better for the next pandemic or crisis that happens. It’s preparation we haven’t had in the past,” he said.
“[It won’t be underutilised] because it’s still going to be used for overseas travellers, it could be used for temporary accommodation, and it could be used for other emergencies.
“The main thing is it will remove the need for hotel quarantine and it means we will be far better prepared for future problems than we are at the moment.”
Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham described the facility’s opening as ‘another step in our ongoing management of the COVID-19 pandemic [that] increases our ability to continue to safely return travellers into Australia’.
COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria commissioner Emma Cassar said the hub would make the quarantine process easier.
“The hub’s open-air setting will eliminate many of the challenges of hotel quarantine, with standalone cabins allowing for a constant flow of fresh air and no shared ventilation systems among residents,” she said.